Broncos have real chance at NFL title

It’s a bit early, but here’s one man’s version of what is going to happen the remainder of the National Football League season:

The Denver Broncos are going to beat the Oakland Raiders in the regular-season finale Sunday and spend a much-needed bye week licking wounds.

Denver is then going to gain a measure of revenge over the Indianapolis Colts, edge the Cincinnati Bengals (not the New England Patriots) in the AFC title game and outscore the Seattle Seahawks 36-26 in the Super Bowl in early February.

At that point, Peyton Manning will be anointed King of the Universe, and all will be right with the world as soon as he goes about the business of cleaning up global cooling.

A bit far-fetched?

Maybe.

Being the holiday season, however, it’s time for positive vibes: This, Bronco fans, has been one heckuva season, and your team has a shot — a good shot.

Let’s start with the Great Manning.

He has had the best season for a quarterback ever, better than Manning himself, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, Sammy Baugh, Joe Kapp (just kidding) or anyone else you can think of ever had.

All Manning has done in 15 games is throw a league-record 51 touchdown passes, toss for 5,211 yards and put up a quarterback rating of 113.8, all far above what any other QB has done this season.  Drew Brees’ record of 5,476 passing yards in a season should also go down Sunday when the Broncos play a game that matters in Week 17 at Oakland.

Denver, 12-3, has to win to avoid another possible trip to New England, with the 11-4 Patriots having their own version of a gimme with their finale at home against the Bills.

Yes, after paying attention for at least most of the game against the Raiders, Manning should hold virtually every one-season passing record in history.

And there is no reason — not snow, cold or a shaky defense — Manning and his buddies can’t put up huge numbers throughout the playoffs.

The Bronco offense, with the sole exception of slot receiver Wes Welker, is healthy and should be healthier and incredibly well-prepared after another bye week. Word has it Welker should be rarin’ to go in that playoff opener after suffering a pair of concussions in less than a month.

The best passing offense ever is the reason Denver has a great shot to win it all.

Two words as to why they might not: Von Miller.

Miller’s injury on Sunday, a torn ACL that will keep him out the rest of the way, takes away the one guy other teams have to scheme for.

While it appeared at times he wasn’t making a big impact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Miller was the Broncos’ most dominant player by far since returning from a six-game suspension.

According to our good friends at Pro Football Focus, Miller had a positive rating of 40.2 on the season.  Despite missing six games, that was far in front of the league runner-up as an outside linebacker, Lavonte David of Tampa Bay, who had a rating of 27.7. The third highest-rated outside linebacker was Vontaze Burfict of Cincinnati, rated at 13.3.

Simply put, Miller was the best in the business. Now he’s gone.

Reason to panic?

Not really.

What Bronco fans need to hope for is help from others, and they should get it.

Remember, Denver won six games with Miller out.

And when the playoffs start, the team should be healthier on the defensive side than it has been since the season opened.

Champ Bailey saw his first extended action in the secondary Sunday, and he didn’t give up a big reception in 35 plays.

Starting safety Rahim Moore and starting defensive lineman Derek Wolfe also are likely to be available once the playoffs start.

There will be no Miller, but there will be more depth on defense and plenty of time for defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to scheme.

Defensive players on the upswing of late include linemen Malik Jackson, Sylvester Williams, Terrance Knighton and Robert Ayers. They dominated Sunday against Houston.

Add steady corners Chris Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and linebackers Shaun Phillips and Danny Trevathan, and the Broncos should be respectable defensively despite the loss of Miller.

They lost their horse, but have been gaining depth because of the recent injury spate.

Keep this in mind: Denver doesn’t have to be dominant defensively, just better than the opposition will be in playing against Manning.

That should be a Super formula.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.

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